A friend of mine recently told me what it’s like to fall off a skateboard in your forties. Listen: it’s an event. You remember it. Oof! And you remember what follows. Woe so thick and painful it is almost mineral. Woe that casts a shadow when you breathe it all out. The fall is quick but the recovery takes time. You ease up off the gritty floor, collect your glasses and the things that were in your pockets, and then you find a spot to sit and you sit for a long while. What are you doing for this long while? You are preparing. You are preparing to start living again, preparing to face the awful prospect of yet more life. Falling off a skateboard in your forties makes you feel like one of the sagging wretches Rembrandt was so good at painting.
From one master to another: Spelunky does this too. The playthrough – often a long one, which in Spelunky speak means, oooh, all of six minutes – that seemed so promising and ended so suddenly, with such brisk and all-consuming calamity. You put down the pad and blink and then you find a quiet corner, hopefully under the speckled shadows of a looming monstera. You sit and let the room tick and creak and settle, and you let time flow around you. Because this is something you need to recover from. You become a Rembrandt. It will take more than minutes to return from this. It can take hours.
There’s a lot of stuff in Spelunky 2 – in many ways it’s A Lot of Stuff: The Video Game – yet one of my favourite things in all of it – one of the things most likely to create the echoing trembles of the Rembrandt Run – is a simple stretch of corridor. Sometimes, while exploring the very first levels of this procedural platformer, a bold attempt to sequelize one of the very few genuinely Tetris Tier games out there, you will come up across this simple stretch of corridor, and you will walk down it and regardless of how good your chances were a second ago, you will meet something that kills you pretty swiftly. Not because of any trap or any gimmick, but because you hadn’t prepared yourself for the specific procedural nightmare that was coming your way. The spider-and-bats knuckleball that beans you. The moles – the sodding moles – who have interacted badly with a spiny lizard. The turkey that tried to help but didn’t help. The corridor is nothing special, it’s just a little too low to allow you to deal with something at speed. Or if you’re second-guessing yourself. Or if you’re second-guessing yourself at speed.